The Florida Keys are without a doubt one of the most fun destinations in the United States. Located off the southern coast of Florida, the Keys form the southernmost part of the continental United States and are known as a destination for fishing, boating, snorkeling and diving.
*This post may contain affiliate links, as a result, we may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) on any bookings/purchases you make through the links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Read our full disclosure
The islands extend from the town of Key Largo in the Northeast to the tourist hub of Key West in the West, and farther out to the uninhabited but beautiful Dry Tortugas National Park.
Thanks to its convenient location just a few hours south of Miami, Florida Keys make for a popular vacation destination in Florida. Many come to the Keys for a taste of the Caribbean in the US, spending most of their time in Key West.
But there is so much more to the in Florida Keys than visiting Key West!
On our recent trip to the Florida Keys, we decided to split our time between Key Largo, Marathon and Key West, enjoying sights and activities in all corners of the region. As with all of our travels, we tried to do what we could to make our trip a responsible one, supporting eco-friendly accommodation, tour operators, and restaurants along the way.
If you’re wondering what to do in Florida Keys, this guide will help you plan a responsible trip to the Florida Keys.
How to Get to Florida Keys
There are a few ways to get to and around Florida Keys.
The quickest is to fly. The main airport is Key West International Airport, which has connections to many cities in Florida and the rest of the US. From the airport, you can grab a local taxi and/or shuttle buses to take you around Key West. You can rent a car or even an electric golf cart or scooter in town to navigate around Key West and its surroundings.
The most scenic way is to drive. A road trip to the Florida Keys is an adventure in its own right, so its a great way to make your way from Miami to the area. Car rental is much easier to secure in Miami to Fort Lauderdale and it gives you the freedom to explore the region beyond just Key West.
Want to make it eco-friendly? Follow our lead. To reduce the carbon impact of driving, we rented an electric car from Miami Airport and found it a breeze to explore Florida Keys with an electric vehicle. Our electric car (Polestar II rented via Enterprise) was surprisingly affordable. The rental cost less than $100 per day, a rate comparable to that of a regular compact car. The bonus was that we recharged our electric vehicle for free while in the Florida Keys using free EV chargers at hotels, restaurants, etc. Our fuel savings alone made up for any perceived premium in the car rental price.
Our tip: We can highly recommend a road trip to Key West from Miami, as there are lots of things to see in Florida Keys on the way. However, don’t underestimate driving distances along the Keys. The drive from Miami to Key West takes 3.5-4 hours without any stops, so it’s important to plan accordingly.
16 Fun Things to do in Florida Keys
We found plenty of fun things to do in Florida Keys! No matter what your interests are or how much time you have to spare, here are the top picks for things to do in Florida Keys.
Explore Key West Town
Key West is often considered to be the main destination and best place to go in Florida Keys. The town is a popular destination for a holiday in Florida and swells with tourists in the high season. You can easily spend a week hanging out in Key West, the town offers plenty of attractions, activities and bars/restaurants.
The old district of Key West is the heart and soul of the town. Duval Street, the main street in town, has a lively atmosphere with bars dotting the street. Caroline Street is known for its beautiful old houses. Other worthy stops include Key West Museum of Art and History, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West Garden Club and more.
We found the best way to learn more about the history of Key West and its unique neighbourhoods is to take the Conch Train Tour that runs every hour throughout the city. There are various stops where you can catch the train or hop on/off to spend more time in certain parts of town. The guides are entertaining and are full of fun facts and interesting tidbits of information about Key West, so it’s a great activity to kick off your stay in Key West.
Enjoy Sunset on Mallory Square
Key West, FL
Located in downtown Key West on the historic waterfront, Mallory Square is a hub of nightly entertainment in Key West. The square is home to an arts festival that takes place daily at sunset. There are arts and crafts vendors, street performers, street food and, of course, a magical sunset. Mallory Square is every visitor’s favourite thing to do in Key West at sunset!
Visit the Southernmost Point Buoy
Key West, FL
A giant buoy located in Key West, marks the southernmost point of the continental United States. It’s located just 90 miles away from Cuba and is a popular spot for a photo opp in Key West. Be prepared to line up – this spot is as cool and as popular as it sounds!
Take in the Views from Key West Lighthouse
Key West, FL
The Key West lighthouse opened in 1848, and has since undergone multiple upgrades. While the lighthouse has been decommissioned it’s been preserved as a reminder of the maritime heritage. You can walk up the 88 steps to the top of the Key West lighthouse for an incredible view.
Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Key West, FL
Many don’t realize it, but the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, lived in Key West for 10 years. You can step into his world at his Whitehead Street property – now a museum – and immerse yourself in the setting where Hemingway wrote many of his classics. It’s one of the best places to visit in the Keys for Hemmingway fans. There is a gift shop on site so you can bring home some memorabilia too!
Check out the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
Key West, FL
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is a fun spot to visit in Key West for nature lovers. This conservatory is filled with hundreds of butterflies, flowering plants, colourful birds and pretty trees. It’s a popular place to visit in Key West for families.
Snap a Photo at Mile Marker 0
Key West, FL
Look for this popular photo spot at the official end of the US Highway Route 1, which is marked by the Mile Marker 0. It’s located at the intersection of Whitehead Street and Fleming Street in Key West.
Go on a Sunset Cruise Sail
Key West, FL
One of the most romantic things to do on the Florida Keys is to enjoy a sunset cruise in Key West. There are a number of operators offering sunset cruises in Key West, but the best ones book up well in advance, so plan ahead.
We did our sunset sail with Sebago Watersports, a well-established operator in Key West. Their 2-hour sunset catamaran cruise includes wine and beer, ho’dourves and cute little key lime pies for dessert. There is live music on board which makes for a very enjoyable way to end any day in the Key West.
Sustainability tip: Bring your own cup (like this awesome Stojo silicone cup) to help reduce the amount of single-use plastic used on the ship. We wish we did!
Join a Dolphin Watching and Snorkel Tour
Key West, FL
The dolphin watching and snorkeling tour with Honest Eco was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Florida Keys. In our opinion, going out for a morning of dolphin watching is a much better way to interact with dolphins than visiting the Dolphin Research Center. If you’re an eco-conscious traveler like us, you’ll love the opportunity to see dolphins in the wild and to experience the trip on Honest Eco’s solar-powered boat, Squid. We were impressed by the distance it can travel and were in complete awe of its unique operation.
The Honest Eco crew took us out to the beautiful shallow area about an hour off the coast of Key West, where we enjoyed a very special encounter with a pod of dolphins. We learned so much about their behaviour and enjoyed their majestic presence up close. There was only one other boat in the water with us, so it felt like a particularly exclusive experience.
We then traveled to a great snorkeling spot and spent about an hour snorkeling around the reef. We spotted turtles, barracuda fish, puffer fish, lobsters and even a nurse shark. Yummy organic snacks and a super knowledgable and fun crew made this a very special morning in Key West. An activity that landed at the top of our list of best things to do in Key West!
Sustainable Travel Tip: You’ll have to lather up with sunscreen before jumping in the water to snorkel. The sun in Florida is strong and sun protection is essential to avoid bunt back, butt and legs while snorkeling. Choose a reef-safe sunscreen to avoid damaging the fragile ecosystem of the reefs. We recommend this one.
Go Kayaking in the Mangroves
Key West, FL
There are plenty of opportunities to kayak off the coast of Key West, but a chance to kayak among the mangroves is one not to be missed. The half-day kayaking trip allows you to learn about the ecosystems of the Key West coastline and offers a unique way to explore the Keys.
Kayaking is definitely one of the best Florida Keys tours for active travelers and a fun way to spend some time out on the water!
Spend the Day at Smathers Beach
Key West, FL
If you are craving a day at a picturesque white sandy beach, Smathers Beach is the place to do it.
Located on the south Key West coast, Smathers Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Key West. Here you’ll find beach chairs for rent, beach volleyball, windsurfers and jet ski rentals. Food trucks line the street along the beach, offering plenty of options for a snack, a drink or a full meal during your day at Smathers Beach.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Off the coast of Key West, FL
Located almost 70 miles off the coast of Key West, the Dry Tortugas National Park is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in the Florida Keys. Made up of seven islands, it offers a unique natural environment and is a popular place for history and nature lovers.
You can visit the islands either by seaplane or ferry. The ferry takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes from Key West. You can visit the park on a day trip from Key West or stay overnight, camping is available.
There are some great things to see in the national park, including:
- Fort Jefferson: The main icon of the islands and one of the top attractions in Florida Keys is the historic Fort dating back to the 19th century. Used during the Civil War by warships and as a prison, the Fort showcases civil war relics and plenty of history.
- Garden Key Lighthouse: Located near the fort, the Garden Key Lighthouse was built in 1826 and was active for around a century.
- Coral reefs: There’s an incredible reef network around the islands which is perfect for snorkeling and diving. Thanks to its remote location and easterly flowing currents, the reefs around the island have a much healthier and more abundant marine life than anywhere else in the Florida Keys.
Ride along the Old Seven Mile Bridge
Located in Marathon, not far from Bahia Honda State Park, the Old Seven Mile Bridge is one of the Florida Keys’ must-do attractions. The original bridge was completed in 1912, and served as a railroad bridge, known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World’’ thanks to its impressive construction at the time.
The new bridge, which now runs parallel to the Old Seven Mile Bridge, was finished in 1982. It offers vehicles a safe and modern way to cross the ocean en route to Key West. The Old Seven Mile Bridge has been mostly closed down, but a stretch of a new 2.2 cycling and the walking path remains, allowing visitors an opportunity to ride or walk it en route to the historic Pigeon Key.
Rent a bike from the nearby Marathon Bike Rentals and enjoy a fun ride across the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Stop often to peer into the water and search for sting rays, turtles and other marine life.
Visit Pigeon Key
Known as one of the most historically important locations on the Florida Keys, Pigeon Key is a tiny island that once housed 400 workers who built the Florida Keys Overseas Railroad in the early 1900s.
Today, Pigeon Key serves as a historical site with well-preserved buildings, including a museum that showcases information about the railroad construction and the lives of its workers. The island is also known as one of the best places to go in the Florida Keys for snorkeling, kayaking and bird watching. You’ll find an outfitter on-site with snorkeling and kayaking equipment for rent.
You can not reach Pigeon Key by car, so walking or biking is the only way. There is no shade along the way, so be sure to plan ahead with lots of water and reef-safe sunscreen. If you plan on walking, we recommend heading out early in the morning to avoid the harsh mid-day sun and give yourself plenty of time to enjoy museums and activities on Pigeon Key. Entrance to Pigeon Key is $10/per person. The gates close at 4pm.
Visit the Turtle Hospital
Another Florida Keys must-see for any wildlife enthusiast is the Turtle Hospital on Marathon. This non-profit organization is dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered and injured sea turtles from the South Florida area.
They run educational programs daily every half an hour. You can get a tour of the hospital facilities and the sea turtle rehabilitation area and get a behind-the-scenes look at the important work they do. At the end of the tour, you can also get involved in some hands-on activities at the hospital, which, kids in particular find to be one of the most incredible activities in the Florida Keys.
Feed the Tarpon At Robbie’s
Located on Lower Matecumbe Key’s marina in the Islamorada area, Robbie’s Hungry Tarpoon Restaurant is often ranked amongst the best of Florida Keys’ attractions. The waterfront restaurant and bar is most well-known for their tarpon feeding.
For just $2.25 per person, you can hand-feed a school of tarpon that hang around the marina. We opted out of feeding the fish ourselves, as we prefer to not hand feed marine life, but watched others get an adrenaline rush while doing it. Many come to Robbie’s for the tarpon feeding and stay for the food. The on-site restaurant and bar get rave reviews for their delicious fresh seafood and great sunset views.
Sustainability Tip: If ordering drinks, ask for them to be served in reusable cups rather than single-use plastic ones. And don’t worry, the straws used in the drinks are environmentally friendly.
Visit the History of Diving Museum
This independent, non for profit museum is located in Islamorada on the Overseas Highway. It’s one of the many family-friendly things to do in the Keys. The museum has exhibitions and displays for all ages that allows visitors to learn more about the history of diving.
The History of Diving Museum also runs a host of events, so there’s always something going on to get involved in the local diving scene.
Explore Long Key State Park
Located just south of Islamorada on the Overseas Highway, Long Key State Park is worth exploring on the road to Key West. It was once home to an up-market resort which was wiped out during the hurricane in 2017. While there’s only minimal camping left on the key, there are still some worthwhile outdoor activities to get involved in, like swimming, snorkeling and kayaking.
Since much of the infrastructure of Long Key State Park hasn’t been rebuilt, it offers a quieter side to the Florida Keys.
Try Wake Boarding at The Lagoon at Grassy Flats
Grassy Key, FL
For adventure junkies, The Lagoon on Grassy Key is one of the best places in Florida Keys to visit for the day. The Lagoon Adventure Park is the sister property to the next door Grassy Flats Resort and Beach Club and is a huge 50-acre action and water sports park.
Specializing in a variety of board, wind, and paddle sports, The Lagoon offers full-day equipment rentals, including kayaks, SUP boards, body boards, windsurfing equipment and wakeboards. They have a wakeboarding course on site where you can practice your skills in a safe environment.
On-site, you’ll also find Bongos, a cafe with a small but very delicious menu of sandwiches, bowls, and craft beer. The Lagoon Saloon shop sells surf and skate lifestyle clothing and accessories.
Beach Hop on Bahia Honda Key
Located between Marathon and Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda State Park is known for having the most beautiful beaches in all of the Florida Keys. It’s less than an hour from Key West, making it a great stop on a Key West road trip.
There are three main beaches in Bahia Honda State Park: Loggerhead Beach, Calusa Beach and Sandspur Beach. The natural sandy beach makes it stand out from the mostly man-made beaches on the other keys, plus the crystal clear waters make for a great spot for swimming.
You’ll find boat ramps, a campground, picnic areas and plenty of space within the Bahia Honda State Park to spread out and relax for a day. It’s, without doubt, one of the best things to do on the way to Key West.
National Key Deer Refuge
Big Pine Key, FL
The National Key Deer Refuge is a huge reserve on Big Pine Key covering over 8500 acres, established to protect the Key Deer. There are only around 600-800 key deer remaining in the refuge area, so they can be difficult to spot.
There is a new and free Nature Center for the reserve where staff and rangers can answer all your questions about the deer and the conservation efforts.
Go Diving at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Key Largo, FL
Located on Key Largo, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to a vibrant underwater world. The park covers around 70 nautical square miles of the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of the key. Scuba diving here is easily one of the best things to do in Florida Keys.
We went diving with Horizon Divers a reputable operator based out of Key Largo. They offer a variety of diving trips, catering to experienced divers as well as to beginners. No matter what your skill level is they can take you out to over 100 dive sites around the park, including the Upper Keys National Sanctuary near Key Largo.
The crew was fun and our dive experience – very safe and enjoyable. We booked a 2-dive package and were a bit sad to find out that packages are limited to reef only or wreck only dives and cannot be mixed and matched (i.e. 1 reef dive and 1 wreck dive). So if you are an avid diver and want to experience both, plan to spend at least 2 days diving in Florida Keys.
A diving trip is definitely one of the most memorable things to do in the Florida Keys for nature lovers and is not to be missed!
Best Restaurants in Florida Keys
There are lots of great restaurants in Florida Keys. So, we’ve rounded up a list of our favourites, grouping them by region.
Located in Key Largo, Hobo’s Cafe has been operating since 1991. They serve fresh locally sourced seafood, fish burgers, conch fritters and tuna nachos, among other things. A key lime pie is always a staple on their dessert menu.
Key Largo Conch House
Another popular restaurant in Key Largo is Key Largo Conch House, an air-conditioned restaurant with outdoor seating. Their outdoor garden features nifty decorations and a menu featuring fresh local seafood, breakfast options and delicious desserts. Try their Egg’s Benny!
Florida Keys Brewing Company
One of the most popular breweries in Florida Keys, the Brewing Co is the place to go for a beer on a hot summer day. This colourful spot has a great atmosphere with a food truck offering snacks to go along with the beer!
Robbie’s/ The Hungry Tarpon Restaurant
Robbie’s Marina, home to the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant and Bar is a quirky spot, featuring a mix of shops, food vendors and tarpon feeding. The Hungry Tarpon Restaurant and Bar offers a large menu with a good selection of seafood options, great clam chowder, and fun cocktails.
Sparky’s Landing is a local’s favourite. Located just off the highway on Marathon, the restaurant combines fresh seafood with delicious cocktails in a relaxed, waterfront setting. They serve wood-fired pizza, a unique fish Reuben and fish tacos topped with cilantro lime sauce.
Mahina at Isla Bella Beach Resort
The Mahina is a new Polynesian-inspired restaurant at the upscale Isla Bella Beach Resort. Influenced by the Executive Chef’s birthplace of Hawaii, the restaurant features a unique menu with locally sourced fresh ingredients and flavours inspired by the taste of Hawaii.
The restaurant setting is really beautiful with tables on the white sandy beach. The string lights set the mood after sunset. In our opinion, it’s the most romantic spot to enjoy oceanfront sunset dining in Florida Keys. An ideal setting for any celebration or romantic dinner.
Food For Thought
Nestled in the heart of Marathon, Food for Thought is a natural food store and organic café. You’ll find a variety of breakfast and lunch dishes, including plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. The shop also sells fresh produce, herbs, supplements, vitamins, and environmentally friendly household and kitchen goods.
Sunset Grille and Raw Bar
A casual but extremely popular bar and grill at the foot of the historic Seven Mile Bridge. The Sunset Grille waterfront restaurant offers great sunset views and a diverse menu including fresh local seafood, raw bar, sushi and salads. Their giant cocktails are an attraction in their own right!
Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe
If you are looking for the best place to sample key lime pien Kermit’s Bakery in Downtown Key West is the spot to beat. The Bakery sells great key lime pie and many key lime pie flavoured delicacies. There is a nice patio garden with a few tables if you want to eat in. Take away options are also available.
Located in Key West near the Historic Seaport, the Fisherman’s Cafe serves timeless favourites and fresh ingredients like Key West shrimp, lobster and conch in a casual environment with outdoor seating.
B.O.’s Fish Wagon
B.O.’s Fish Wagon is a funky driftwood shack in Key West serving up fried fish, conch fritters and casual food including burgers and chicken sandwiches. The restaurant’s owner, Buddy Owen, who recently turned 80, began his operation out of a little wagon on Duval Street and his wife Holly still cooks. A stop here is a must on any Key West drive.
Date & Thyme Organic Cafe
Located in a former gas station, Date & Thyme Organic Cafe & Market is a vibrant vegetarian oasis in the heart of Key West. They serve fresh and organic food from breakfast through to lunch. There is an organic grocery store on site where you can stock up on snacks and other goodies.
Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar
Located at The Perry Hotel in Key West, Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen and Bar is a great spot for a sunset dinner in Key West. The restaurant has beautiful decor and serves up delicious American Coastal Comfort Food – a menu offers something for everyone! Matt’s is a winner of OpenTable’s 2018 Diners’ Choice Award for best ambiance.
Our Recommended Hotels in Florida Keys
We split our time in the Florida Keys between Marathon and Key West, staying at 2 great hotels along the way. Here is more about each one.
Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club
Marathon, Florida Keys
The Grassy Flats Resort is probably the most sustainable hotel you will find in the Florida Keys. The founder, Matt, has built a resort that takes into consideration not just guest satisfaction but also the impact his business has on the environment. We were seriously impressed by his work!
Over the years, a number of green initiatives have been implemented at the hotel, like a robust in house recycling program (we couldn’t believe how hard it is to property recycle on the islands), seaweed composting program, the exclusion of pesticides and herbicides from the gardens, zero single-ue plastics policy and more. A lot of the materials used in the construction of the hotel are also upcycled and/or reused. Matt is constantly looking for ways to make the hotel even more environmentally conscious.
The rooms at the Grassy Flats range from 2-3 bedroom suites with full kitchens and private verandas to smaller King size suites suitable for a couple. All rooms have a beautiful view of the ocean and offer that iconic island vibe feeling.
We loved the decor inside. The rooms are purposely outfitted with wooden furniture and other design elements to bring a feeling of nature inside the room. Beds are comfortable, bathrooms chic, and toiletries are organic and biodegradable.
Amenities include 2 pools, private garden areas, and free use of kayaks and paddle boards during your stay. The on-site Barrel & Bale Beach Bar is the place to be at sunset time. Sample their delicious cocktails, tropical drinks, craft beers, wines, and refreshing spritzes.
Parrot Key Hotel & Villas
Key West, Florida Keys
The Parrot Key Hotel was our home away from home in Key West. This 148-unit property has recently undergone a full refurbishment and offers spacious, modern, and nature-inspired rooms overlooking the mangroves. Rooms range from regular bedrooms to 2-3 bedroom suites and villas. It features a walk-out balcony and a semi-private lounge area with sun chairs and a hammock – perfect for lazy afternoons.
There are multiple pools on-site, as well as a poolside bar and Grove Kitchen & Bar serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hotel makes sustainability a priority through its eco-friendly platform, EarthView, which tracks the hotel’s energy use and water and waste impact.
Located on Florida Bay, two miles from downtown historic Key West, Parrot Key is just far enough away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Key West while offering a secluded getaway for its guests.
READ NEXT: The Ultimate Miami to Key West Drive Itinerary
Disclaimer: Big thanks to the Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Board for hosting us during our time in the Keys.
As always, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.